VIENNA, Austria – A senior envoy said Friday that Iran wants to expand its cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, but said the IAEA should not be cast as a "U.N. watchdog" looking for signs of secret nuclear weapons programs.
The comments, from Iran's chief delegate to the IAEA, were apparently meant to dispel concerns that Tehran was reducing contacts with the Vienna-based agency tasked with probing the Islamic Republic's nuclear activities.
Instead of cutting back on cooperation, Tehran wants to increase it, chief delegate Ali Ashgar Soltanieh told The Associated Press. To that end, a meeting between Iranian Vice President Gholam Reza Aghazadeh and IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei on Thursday focused on "the promotion of cooperation with the IAEA," he said.
On Thursday, Aghazadeh appeared to signal that his country was no longer prepared to entertain further questions from the IAEA about allegations that Tehran conducted secret research and experiments into nuclear weapons.
Investigating such allegations "is outside the domain of the agency," he said after meeting with ElBaradei. Any further queries on the issue "will be dealt with in another way," he said, without elaborating.
Soltanieh, however, said that did not mean that his country was reducing its IAEA ties, saying, "we will continue our cooperation with the agency in accordance with our legal obligations."
But he questioned the right of the IAEA to push Iran for answers on the weapons allegations, which he described as "fabricated and forged ... by the United States." Such a probe was "beyond the domain of the IAEA," he said
"The agency is not a U.N. watchdog," said Soltanieh, suggesting it should concentrate on technical matters.
In its last Iran report in May, the IAEA said Iran might be withholding information on whether it tried to make nuclear arms. It also noted that Tehran continued to expand its uranium enrichment program, despite three sets of retaliatory U.N. Security Council sanctions.
Tehran says it wants to perfect enrichment to generate fuel. But critics fear it is developing the technology for its other main use — creating the fissile core of warheads.